Dragpunk Tour Diary: The Kids Are Alright; Meeting the Millennials on tour with Adore Delano.
With great pleasure and enjoyment My last week and a half has been spent supporting Adore Delano’s Whatever Tour across seven cities in the UK, along with my Birmingham drag family, Dragpunk. This presented many challenges, not least of all how do we, as lipsync artists create a show that fits with Adore’s live singing and rock band? We are a collective of subversive, punk drag queens. Born and raised in dark murky basements of Birmingham’s underground, 18+ nightlife venues – how do we cater for a 14+ audience there for the main act, not us the support?
So we set about planning. Making a full show of our 35 minute set. Background music, microphone time, and mixes and looks that serve all that Dragpunk is about. We wanted to provide a full show, and most of all make a statement. The reaction was entirely surprising and revealing about the ‘state of the youth’.
For us drag mixes entertainment with queer activism – the megaphone that we can use to talk about queer and gender identities, to challenge the lurking insipid homophobia, transphobia and racism within the LGBTQ community and outside of it. Dragpunk’s Amber Cadaverous, whose gender is only relevant for clarity, is a cisgender woman. Her whole performance within our set was an explosion of songs about being precisely that – female. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. It’s A Woman’s World. Man I Feel Like A Woman. Interspersed with relevant soundbites, it all wrapped up with Amber picking up the mic and giving a speech telling this young audience that their existence is not second to anyone else’s. It’s more than okay to be female.
My own number, a lipsync featuring Jinkx Monsoon’s beautiful rendition of Radiohead’s Creep, finished with a similar moment on the mic that to be strange, unusual – weird even – is absolutely okay too. Pursue that difference, be kind, open, learn, and you may find that happiness, confidence, and self esteem are earned in a world that actively resists the unorthodox.
After the first opening night in at the Manchester Academy, it became quite clear that we left an impression. Over the course of the tour it became all the more clear that all of the Dragrace fangirls and fanboys, the hundreds each night making up the audiences, amounting to thousands over the tour, who were there for their love of Adore Delano, actually just love drag and difference. Adore represents a punk brand, latched onto by her fans whose love and devotion to her was strong and deep to say the least. Yet these fanboys and fangirls, often dismissed for not supporting ‘local’ drag were there to have fun, and to spend the little money they had on one awesome drag experience. Many have no outlets to local drag or queer nightlife for they do not live in the big cities or are simply not older enough. With Adore Delano, her band, and what we provided was that access to the local drag, to UK drag, and what it can stand for.
After each set we were approached for photos, hellos, and thanks for our drag and message. Our personal and Dragpunk social medias exploded. Tired, eating far too many crisps, whilst travelling between cities we spenthour after hour, quite happily, responding to floods of DMs, comments and tags. Four individuals from Birmingham with paint and fabric strewn about them, under the name of Dragpunk, were now being thanked by these young people for inspiring them with our drag and for telling them that it’s okay to be yourself. And often for simply saying hello to them in person. Stories about people’s own struggles, about how they felt some validation at our show, became the norm. Some survived the Manchester bombing. other’s survived self harm, chronic depression, and crippling loneliness. These are not fads, these are not over-sensitivities. These are not ‘snowflakes’. It was and is still immensely humbling. We did not plan it to be this way. It helped that our drag, our performances, and our mixes were decent, for without them the message may not have reached. Most of all it helped that through entertainment, a shining message landed. No lecturing, no talking down, we spoke sincerely without realising that it would resonate. You know you have successfully penetrated gay youth culture when you receive such an outpouring of love from fans via popular LGBT messenger app and online brothel Grindr.
What does this mean, about this young generation so easily dismissed disparagingly as ‘millenials’, as ‘snowflakes’, who often to give meaning to their fandom by self-identify as ‘stans’ on that notorious hotbed of Twitter? (Stan essentially being a super fan, named I am told after Eminem’s early classic Stan, about an overzealous fan). Well it seems that they are not actually being engaged. Low and behold, society is failing them. All we saw was passion, and some of the most fun and positive individuals around. Are we really throwing out a whole young generation, again? Is it because they have online platforms to comment and criticise the corrupt world around them? That because some, just a few, take it too far? These audiences were a cross-section of an open queer-minded youth, who were happy to be happy given the chance. Twitter is their main outlet in a world where adults – as with in every era of our history – puts down the youth. When we provided a message of empowerment, they lapped it up. We sent some very clear messages in our show, as Adore did, about sticking two fingers up to misogyny, trying to fit in, and assimilation into a straight-laced society. Where else are people providing these messages and actually living them?
To say the least, it was refreshing and if we can see the potential of engagement, then others can. The key is understanding rather than the smug chastising, condescension of the follies of youth that too many older people’s minds can succumb to. We felt empowered and emboldened that drag is activism, and that as Dragpunk, we have a statement to make. We hope that others take it on board to pursue as well.
Paul Aleksandr, the author of this article is one quarter of Birmingham’s most prolific drag collective, the indescribable drag punk. He blurs the line of gender subtly, and draws influences from goth and alternative culture, horror films, and societies boogeymen and creeps. His first language is Russian and his hobbies include birdwatching, amateur abortionism, and tasteful nude self portraiture. You can find him on Facebook as Paul Aleksandr or on instagram at @paul_aleksandr.
If you’re attending Birmingham Pride this weekend, Dragpunk’s legendary Emo Party I’m Not Ok Will be opening the future stage at 2:30. If you’re a fan of the weird and wonderful, get on down.